The 2019 Pathfinder Bible Experience (PBE) Division Finals on April 26-27 drew a record-breaking 210 teams to Rockford, Illinois, located nearly 100 miles northwest of Chicago. This was the first time in PBE’s history that more than 200 teams participated in the division level testing. Approximately 3,500 people filled the sports complex of the Rockford Valley Community College, a number that shocked organizers.
“One of the things that really surprised us is that there are so many clubs coming on an Oshkosh year. We anticipated attendance would be less, but we are pleasantly surprised that parents, families, and churches rose above and beyond the planning for Oshkosh to make Bible study and the celebration of young people learning scripture a priority,” said Tracy Wood, director of Youth Ministries for the North American Division.
“Oshkosh” references the Chosen International Pathfinder Camporee that takes place every five years in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Leaders are anticipating more than 50,000 people will attend this year’s camporee, which will take place August 12-17. Clubs have worked to raise enough funds to cover the costs of tickets for each Pathfinder – $195 each – transportation to Oshkosh, travel insurance, and camping supplies, including food for meals.
Since 2012, the journey to the PBE division level has been a four-step process. The teams, which are comprised of up to six people, are first chosen by their clubs to compete in their local districts after months of Bible study and memorization. Those who score within 90 percent of the highest score advance to the conference level. The same pattern continues through the union level all the way to the division.
While 240 teams qualified for division level, 210 participated in the testing. The teams were asked 90 questions based on the biblical book of Luke. Those that scored within 90 percent of the highest score were awarded first place, which was given to 155 teams. Nine NAD unions were represented along with an unprecedented 43 teams from conferences and missions within the British Union, including North England Conference, South England Conference, Irish Mission, Scottish Mission, and the Welsh Mission.
Across the Pond
The featured speaker for the first day of PBE was Dejan Stojkovic, youth director of the British Union Conference. When he accepted the role two years ago, he made a commitment to revitalize PBE teams throughout the territory, not just in the South England Conference, which had been consistently sending teams to the NAD PBE events. This wave of inspiration made its way to the Welsh Mission. Of the mission’s 600 members, approximately 70 are children, and half of that demographic are eligible to participate in PBE.
Four teams assembled and competed against teams from the Scottish and Irish Missions during the “Mission Finals.” From that round of testing, two teams from the Welsh Mission qualified to come to the U.S. However, the teams did not score high enough to receive the sponsorship from the Union designated to send a team from one of the missions to Rockford.
“I was staying at Newbold where the finals took place. Around midnight, I woke up receiving messages on WhatsApp that said, ‘Pastor we want to go to America for the finals. You need to help us find money to raise money quickly because the finals are in a month,’” said David Rancic, Pathfinder sponsor of the Welsh Mission. The messages were coming from parents and Pathfinders who were traveling through the night on a coach bus from Newbold College in England to Wales.
The following day when Rancic returned home, the group presented him with a detailed plan of how they could raise the funds to travel to America.
“I don't think they slept that night. They were checking flights, hotels, and car rentals. Some went in faith and pre-booked the hotel accommodations in Rockford because they didn't have to pre-pay,” continued Rancic. “Just two days after the finals, the group was prepared to present their fundraising proposal to the Welsh Mission. In the end, parents gave half of the money needed, the Welsh Mission contributed, and local churches with the qualifying teams provided the rest.”
Rancic said the driving force behind the lightening round of fundraising was the enthusiasm the Pathfinders showed for learning more about the Bible. Even the clubs that did not qualify for the NAD division level have already started studying the biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which have been selected for next year’s testing.
“Parents are so excited to see their kids dropping their tablets and phones and picking up the Bible. When we see this excitement in children, we need to support it and nurture that excitement,” said Rancic. “It has been a really great journey for us.”
“Are You Ready?”
In the middle of the testing floor of 210 teams was a sign with the number 137. It was next to a small team from the Northern California Conference — the Paradise Prayer Warriors. The Pathfinders are members of the Paradise Seventh-day Adventist Church, which is located in a region of California that experienced the deadliest fire in the state’s history. The fire started November 8, 2018, and destroyed more than 18,800 buildings, and claimed the lives of 85 people.
The fire not only burned the church, but the homes of nearly every Pathfinder of the church. Only four homes of the club’s 30 Pathfinders survived; and all 12 of the club’s staff lost their homes. Each of the four Pathfinders representing Paradise at PBE lost their homes due to the fire.
“When reality set in, depression hit. They realized life was never going to be the same. They got glassy-eyed. Their focus totally changed,” said Terry Parsons, Paradise Prayer Warriors club director.
Nearly three weeks after the fire, Parsons had already moved in with her daughter in the state’s Bay Area when she got a text message asking if the club could still meet.
“I said, ‘Are you ready?’ and they said, ‘Yes, we're ready.’ I thought, If one more kid says, ‘I'm ready,’ we're doing this. Then it happened.”
Parsons drove three hours each direction on Sabbaths to hold Pathfinder meetings. “I did this because I need my kids to have normalcy. I need them to reconnect with something that they're familiar with through Pathfinders.”
Parsons said the PBE team was not able to practice in person due to the lack of a central location to meet, so they would have to use video chats. “I told them to just study, and we'll trust that God will bring us as far as we can come. I reminded them they've already been victorious.”
Parsons added, “The nearby Johnson City Pathfinder Club sent us a pin and a letter that said, ‘Our team is praying for you. We hope to see you at division.’ I read the letter to my pathfinders when they got a little shaky.”
Thoughts of restoration and renewal, not only for their community, but their spirit continue to be the thread that keeps the team together and focused, even though each Pathfinder is still displaced.
“We're going to be a better club, and we're going to be able to tell our story and represent God in that way. Even if we may be smaller because we're scattered everywhere, God's scattering the seeds. God has scattered the seeds for a reason. We can now tell this story of hope.”
With ground-breaking attendance comes the challenges of accommodating sizable numbers. The venue layout was only able to accommodate a limited number of spectators while the Pathfinders tested. To address this and help expand the experience beyond the Pathfinders, Tracy Wood and Vandeon Griffin, associate director of NAD Youth Ministries, hosted an off-site testing center for parents and supporters that would allow them to answer the same questions presented to the Pathfinders, but without the stress of having their answers scored. They were also able to watch a live stream of the testing.
Also, with the added growth comes increased evidence of the ministry’s impact. A scan around the testing floor showed more than 1,000 young people fully engaged in the intricacies of the Gospel. With this year’s emphasis on Luke, the Pathfinders had a chance to absorb the details of popular parables, including the prodigal son, the lost coin, and the lost sheep.
“PBE is an event that changes lives,” said Armando Miranda, associate director of NAD Youth Ministries. “If they can remember only one lesson, I hope they remember they can always come back to the Father. That's Luke. That's the Gospel. That's the story of Salvation. That’s Jesus Christ sacrificing himself so we can come back to him.”
The 2020 PBE division testing will take place in Centralia, Washington. Pathfinders will be tested on the Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah.